Purses, Wallets, Gender Roles, and Me Being Slow On the Uptake
Supposedly, there is a science to having the perfect wallet; there is something to do with the direction of the fold, the number of the folds, the way it sits, slides into the pocket, the colour, the material and of course the size. When I was being shown all of this, I asked Mr. Glendower when did he get his first wallet. “Oh, long before middle school,” he offered. So, I am to understand that he was a veteran wallet carrier by the 7th grade. He went on to tell me how all the boys were carrying wallets by junior high. Well, not my brothers. At least not that I can remember. He had an explanation for their deficiency. See, if my brothers did not carry a wallet it was because they did not have any money. I asked him why would a boy in junior high need a wallet and he said, “for lunch money, and condoms of course.” Where in the world did he get a condom in junior high? His father gave it to him, that’s where. His father gave it to him so he had to keep it in his wallet just like his father told him to. And it was not a hush-hush affair between him and his father, he used this masculine possession against other boys, something others boys did as well to other boys, and that was to stand up against a wall behind a building somewhere, or in a rest room, or in some corner of the school yard and brag about the condom in his wallet. He admits now how absolutely ridiculous he and they were, because, he knows that most of those boys, including himself, did not have a clue. Clueless pubescent bravado always makes for a good laugh.
The summer between sixth and seventh grade I saved every penny for a purse. I had never own a purse before and didn’t really need one, but a lot of the girls in my school were wearing a pretty leather (or leather-like) purse that was shaped like a rectangle, standing on its short side, with two circles cut in the top for the handles. Thelma on Good Times had a purse just like it, and everyone knows that what Thelma wore was to be coveted. When I was telling the older girls across the street, way older as in high school and out of high school that I was going to buy a purse I got a few wink winks in the form of “Oh, Kitty is going to buy a purse,” accompanied with a big smile. Whatever that meant. I did get the purse right before school started and on the first day, this stupid-stupid boy Tommy Brown (what a horrible little twit, I hate him to this day, he antagonised me for years) mentioned my new purse with the same, wink wink that the older girls did. “So, you are carrying a purse this year.” I really thought the people around me were from another planet.
Why were so many people amused by me having a purse? It was really a mystery to me. But I can see now, thirty something years later, oh, I see now their meaning. Really. Is it that serious? What a monstrously gendered world we live in that the slightest little item carried by adolescents is marked with gender, buried in conditioning.
Just for the record, it would be a whole year and half later before I started menstruating. And that purse was stolen when my older sister wore it to work without my permission. Walking home one night from work she was mugged, —by a man (if he had a wallet or not, I could not say).